While it's unlikely to win any awards, Limitless has a lot of addictive qualities.
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Andrew Howard
Limitless is my sort of fantasy film. It poses the question: what if you could take a pill to improve your intelligence? Suddenly, reading a textbook would take only 45 minutes. Languages could be learnt just by listening to them. In a couple of days you could even knock out that novel you always had in you. The lazy man's way to self-improvement, it's the sort of thing we've all day-dreamed of, even if just for a moment when we flick through a weighty tome, wishing we could absorb it in an instant.
It's this intriguing premise that anchors Neil Burger's new film, an adaptation of the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. The Hangover's Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a blocked New York writer who is spiralling towards his lowest ebb when he gets offered NZT. Yet to hit the streets, NZT is a designer drug so miraculous it makes Viagra look like aspirin. Said to rapidly improve your focus and powers of concentration, by the time Eddie has come down from his first hit, he's blitzed his squalid apartment and honoured his publishing contract.
Acquiring a further stash of NZT, Eddie then does what any sensible brain-box would do, and gets rich by playing the stock market. Done at a ferocious pace, he soon attracts the attentions of the tycoon Carl Van Loon (De Niro, playing his most laughably named character since his Louis Cyphre in Angel Heart). But at what cost? As Eddie pops his very own version of Smarties, he's soon experiencing wild blackouts that leave him disoriented for hours, unable to recall where he's been or what he's done.
It's at this point that Limitless falls prey to what might be the filmic equivalent of a bad comedown. After the rainbow-coloured highs of the first half - not least Burger's loopy visuals, as the increasingly amnesiac Eddie goes walkabout across the city - the second segment feels altogether more drab and genre-grey. Russian gangsters, Wall Street takeovers and a murder plot (that soon get swept under the carpet) become the order of the day, as Limitless becomes limited, like so many other Hollywood films.
Actually, it doesn't spoil the enjoyment of what is arguably the biggest guilty pleasure in the cinema this year. Much of this is down to Cooper who, between his zesty narration and his increasingly cocksure presence, keeps you hooked throughout. There are solid turns from Abbie Cornish and Anna Friel as Eddie's ex-girlfriend and ex-wife, respectively, and even De Niro looks a little less in it for the payslip than usual.
There's also none of the narrative sleight-of-hand of Burger's 2006 film The Illusionist; rather, he concentrates on distracting you with pace, sucking you in and spitting you out before you've had time to question the silliness of it all. It won't win any awards for profundity (even with its politically satirical postscript). But from its concept to its casting, Limitless has its addictive qualities in abundance.
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